JulAug 2008: From the Editor – Poisonous rumors

Words: Bronzella Cleveland

JulyAugust 2008


Masonry Design Magazine

Cory Sekine-Pettite,
editor

To make comments
or suggestions, send
e-mail to
cory@lionhrtpub.com

Masonry Design Magazine

Cory Sekine-Pettite,
editor

To make comments
or suggestions, send
e-mail to
cory@lionhrtpub.com

Masonry Design Magazine

Cory Sekine-Pettite,
editor

To make comments
or suggestions, send
e-mail to
cory@lionhrtpub.com

Recently, the national media created frenzy, swarming around recent reports that granite quarried for use in U.S. homes was radioactive (containing uranium) and could pose health risks to homeowners. In one instance, Rice University physics Professor W.J. Llope went public with his findings (though they weren’t yet published or peer reviewed) that, in some cases, the 25 varieties of granite countertop slabs he tested (there are more than 1,600 varieties available from around the world) could expose homeowners to 100 millirems of radiation within a few months of exposure; most of us are exposed to more than 300 millirems annually from natural and manmade sources.

In typical scare-tactic fashion, newspapers and TV news programs frightened homeowners with headlines such as “What’s Lurking in Your Countertop?” (New York Times, July 24). Professor Llope didn’t help matters, either, by telling the Houston Chronicle: “I’m not claiming that people necessarily will get very sick or die of cancer within months. But if you spend 10 years in that kitchen there is a risk you may end up with cancer. It might or might not be attributed to granite. Who would know?”

The industry and the federal government have known for years that many natural building materials – cinder blocks, concrete, brick and granite among them – contain trace amounts of naturally occurring radioactive elements. However, the potential exposure to such small amounts of radiation is not considered harmful; it’s more dangerous to get a sun tan. In light of this recent sensationalism, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new statement on its website, reiterating this fact: “Construction materials ... contain small amounts of radioactive materials that are found naturally in the materials used to make them.” It goes on to say that there is no reliable data to conclude that granite countertops significantly increase indoor radon levels.

Additionally, the Marble Institute of America (MIA) issued statements to defend the industry from the “junk science” and the media’s uninformed reporting. Regarding the New York Times report, the MIA says the newspaper “plays to the emotions, rather than basing its focus on scientific fact. ... For example, the piece fails to point out that repeated studies have found that granite most commonly used in home countertops is safe. Instead, it vaguely mentions one or two stones that someone deemed to be problematic, then goes on to suggest that the only solution is to remove granite from the home.”

As a journalist, this kind of unsubstantiated, irresponsible reporting upsets me on too many levels to express on a single page. So, lets just say I am embarrassed for my profession, but I commend the EPA and the MIA for their swift action on this matter. I hope the erroneous reports about granite haven’t given you pause about the building materials you’ve specified in the past, and that you will continue to consider such materials in future designs. And, as the arm of the construction industry that deals with the public most, I trust you will pass on the proper knowledge to owners and clients, should questions arise. The construction industry is financially fragile enough; it doesn’t need the cancer of tabloid-style rumors eating away at the bottom line. MD

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